In a recent Seattle Times Op-Ed, state Sen. Curtis King was right when he said we need a better, more secure way to fund Washington’s transportation system. However, his revenue solutions are ineffective and fall short in building a cleaner transportation system that works for all Washingtonians. [“Beyond I-976: We need a better way to fund highway projects,” Opinion, Jan. 8].
We need to take a serious step back and look at how we’re raising and spending transportation revenue to ensure we are creating a system that improves our quality of life and safety, meets the public’s needs for getting around and reduces traffic and pollution for everyone. This can be the year we fund the transportation future we want.
The passage of I-976 will eliminate $4 billion in state and local transportation revenue, cutting jobs and exposing the vulnerability of our state’s transportation revenue. These cuts hurt every Washingtonian across the state with increased traffic and fewer clean transportation options. The highest burden is placed on elderly residents, communities of color, and those with disabilities who could now be threatened with cuts to services.
Sen. King correctly points out that revenue from the state’s gas tax, which funds Washington’s roads and highways, is projected to decline as cars get more fuel-efficient and electrify. Transportation funding should shift with the times. It’s time for state legislators to explore new, stable ways to fund transportation that don’t burden low-income communities and can fund a range of transportation solutions Washingtonians need, including transit. Solutions like an air quality surcharge, road usage charge and a luxury transportation tax need to be on the table.
A well-designed air quality surcharge, a one-time charge on the sale or lease of new vehicles based on a vehicle’s estimated lifetime climate pollution, would create an incentive to purchase more efficient, less polluting vehicles, and ultimately give Washington cleaner air. Similarly, an equitably designed road usage charge could be an innovative way to generate transportation revenue that charges people by the number of miles they drive, which when compared to the gas tax would likely decrease costs for those who can’t afford more efficient vehicles and would invest more back into our roads and transit projects. An additional revenue option is a progressive luxury transportation tax on yachts, private jets and luxury vehicles that would help reduce the share of transportation funding costs that middle to low-income residents have to pay.
As the Legislature explores new transportation funding sources, we also need to look at how we invest our transportation dollars. Right now, Washington’s transportation investments are decided without using any defined goals or metrics. Regardless of the source, transportation dollars are precious, and should be used in ways that deliver the most bang for the buck in terms of efficiently and affordably moving people and goods, while minimizing air pollution. We urge state legislators to support the Transportation for All Bill sponsored by Rep. Sharon Shewmake and Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (SB 6398), which will make sure transportation projects and funding priorities are evaluated and selected based on performance over politics.
The challenges we face in our state’s transportation system can also be an enormous opportunity. Transportation is the state’s No. 1 source of climate pollution and stable, reliable funding for cleaner transportation options is vital to address the problem. There is a clear call from Washingtonians and legislators on both sides of the aisle for better, more stable transportation revenue. The time is now. Our state legislators must choose progressive, reliable transportation funding solutions and make targeted investments towards safe, clean and accessible transportation for all.